Page last updated at 22:02 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Polar history made by blind athlete

By Gráinne McCarry

south pole race
The team reached the South Pole after 22 days trekking

County Down motivational speaker Mark Pollock made history on Monday when he crossed the finishing line of an epic race to the South Pole.

He become the first blind man to complete the hazardous journey across the Antarctic Plateau.

Sub-zero temperatures, poor visibility and sleep deprivation were endured for 22 days as Mark's team, SouthPoleFlag.com trekked 770 km pulling a 70kg pulk to the finish line.

The 32-year-old decided to take part in the dangerous and gruelling event to mark the 10th anniversary of losing his sight.

Norwegian two-man team, Missing Link, won the race on Wednesday having covered 769kms in 17 days and 11 hours.

Olympic medal winner James Cracknell's Team Qinetiq came second after 18 days, 5 hours and 30 minutes having retained the lead up until the seventh day, while Mark's team came fifth.

Speaking to BBC News Online by satellite phone, a delighted Mark said that it felt "absolutely unreal" to have reached their final destination.

The team skied through the night, covering 81km in their final 36 hours of the race only stopping twice for sustenance.

Expressing his heartfelt gratitude to his team mates, Simon O'Donnell from Dublin and Inge Solheim from Norway, who took turns guiding him through the race, he said that he "couldn't have done it without them".

"There are great, great people in the world. It's just a question of seeking them out," he said.

After reaching the halfway stage of the race Mark said he prematurely thought that they would succeed, however, when they started off again he realised they had a long way to go to make it to the finish line.

Injury

"It dawned on me we had several hundred kilometres still ahead of us and mentally, I found that really difficult. The thought that anything could happen in that time," he said.

And it did.

"Two days on, I twisted my ankle and when I got up the next morning I wasn't able to bear my weight. I didn't know whether or not it would hold us back or we would have to take time out."

Luckily, the pain eased and they were able to continue.

A few days from their final destination the trio had to take a detour for medical help when Simon received frost bite on his nose and cheeks which, if left untreated, could have become gangrenous.

"We didn't want to take any chances at all so we skied side-ways for half a day to get medical attention. Now we're here, we're safe and all the injuries will clear up," he said.

"It was only in the last hour and a half that I finally realised we were going to make it," he admitted.

south pole race
An motional end to the race for team SouthPoleFlag.com

"For the final phase of the race we didn't see any of the other teams. It was only when we finished that we heard that the team that had come fourth beat us by a couple of hours."

Mark said he was most looking for to a hamburger and a chocolate éclair after weeks of eating dried food.

"When I arrived out here I had a bit of a belly on me and now my stomach is totally flat. In fact, I might even have a six pack," he joked.

"One of the competitors lost 2st 3lbs but I haven't actually weighed myself yet."

He described his time out in the vast expanse as "very emotional."

"Each day had many highs and lows. I got quite emotional four or five times along the way," he said.

"It was due to everything from missing people and thinking about people back home, the thought of what was ahead of me and then, other times because I was happy to be here."

Since losing his sight, the inspirational athlete has set himself a physical challenge each year.

He was the first blind person to complete the lowest and highest marathons in the world - The Dead Sea Ultra in Jordan followed by the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon from Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

When asked on future adventure plans, he said he had a few things in mind, however, nothing involved year long polar expeditions.



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SEE ALSO
Blind athlete half-way to pole
15 Jan 09 |  Northern Ireland
Blind athlete completes training trek
01 Jan 09 |  Northern Ireland
Blind athlete seeks polar success
24 Dec 08 |  Northern Ireland

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